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Racing and Auto Safety

Contributions by Auto Racing to Passenger Vehicle Safety

In 1903, AAA sponsored road races, rallies and long-distance runs to showcase the safety and reliability of the cars of that era. Many of those innovations made their way into the passenger vehicles available to the public. Subsequent technological breakthroughs continue to affect the vehicles we drive today, and those we will drive in the future.

Though auto racing is inherently dangerous, there are many advances in safety that have saved lives, both on the track and in the vehicles we drive every day.

Rearview Mirrors – In 1911, Ray Harroun was able to drive in the Indianapolis 500 using a rearview mirror, rather than depending on the mechanic to tell him when cars were about to pass.

Tires – Road and track racers pioneered rubber compounds and radial technology improvements, contributing to better traction and control for current model cars and trucks. Formula One® designers, racing under all weather conditions, developed tires specific to rainy conditions. Run-flat tires have been used by NASCAR® and similar racecars for more than thirty years.

Traction and Stability Control – Developed in Formula One® racing, these control the position of the vehicle and the traction of the drive wheels. If a vehicle begins to experience understeer or oversteer, power can be added or released to help the driver bring the vehicle back under control. These systems are now available on cars and trucks worldwide.

Hydraulic Brakes – Invented in 1918 by Malcolm Loughead, the hydraulic brake system was more effective and more reliable than the mechanical systems they replaced. First used in the 1918 Duesenberg, these brakes enabled drivers to drive faster, because they could stop more quickly with less effort. By the end of the 1920s, similar brake systems were standard equipment on most higher-priced cars.

Vehicle Seats and Air Bags – Though front air bags have been available for thirty years, side airbags just recently have become available on many vehicles. Side crashes, measured by onboard computers during auto races, determined that occupants in crashes of this type incurred impact to the shoulder area. These data provide input into side body airbag and seat design to limit injuries in this type of crash, a technology that translates directly into protecting occupants of passenger vehicles.

Safety Belts – Required for cars in 1965 and light trucks in 1972, safety belts were derived directly from auto racing experience. First required at the Daytona 500 in the late 1940s, the technology has progressed from simple lap belts used then to sophisticated five-point harness and head restraint systems in use in motorsports today. The three-point lap and shoulder restraints available in today’s cars and trucks are a direct descendant of earlier racing restraint systems. Three-point harnesses, first offered by Volvo in 1959, are responsible for saving over 150,000 lives since.

Crumple Zones – Around the body of a vehicle are points specifically weakened, by design, to absorb the forces of a crash before vehicle occupants receive the impact. Materials used and the locations of these zones are a result of experience gained in racing.

As the motorsports industry continues to move toward a safer environment for participants and spectators, the motoring public will continue to benefit from advancements in vehicle and driver safety systems.

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